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The City Journals

Latino Family Night helps engage families in education

Oct 31, 2016 04:27PM ● By Travis Barton

Granite School District hosted its third annual Latino Family Night on Oct. 6 at Hunter High School. Multiple booths were set up to go along with guest speakers as a way to provide informational resources for families. (Granite School District)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley, Utah - Granite School District hosted its third annual Latino Family Night on Wednesday, Oct. 6 at Hunter High School. The evening saw various cultural performances from Latinos in Action, guest speakers and multiple booths to provide an entertaining and informational night for families. 

“The intent is to increase parental engagement,” said Ben Horsley, communications director of Granite School District. “We’re not going to be successful in helping these kids academically without getting parents more engaged.”

Latino Family Night brought different resources under one roof for a night where families could learn about what services are offered in their community as well as to better understand the American education system. 

Booths came from Salt Lake Community College, South Valley Services, National Alliance on Mental Illness and Salt Lake County Youth Services along with many others. 

Horsley said they strive to let everyone know that schools can’t do all the education alone. 

“We do need these partners to come together to get engaged in that education system and know what they can do to have an impact on a child’s life,” Horsley said. 

It’s a system that can be unfamiliar to immigrants who may feel they don’t have a place in schools. Nearly a third of all Granite School District students identify as Hispanic and that percentage is expected to rise in the coming years. 

Isabel Rojas is the director of systems and operation for Latinos in Action (LIA) and was the emcee for the night’s events. She said events like Latino Family Night are important for the Latino community as it helps breaks down language and cultural barriers. 

“The fact that the district hosts a night in their language, with materials in their language, with their music and their dances says to them [they] can be involved. This is a safe place not just for my students but for me,” Rojas said. 

Granite School District Superintendent Dr. Martin Bates gave his speech in Spanish, which Rojas said made an impact. 

“It meant a lot [that] the top of the school district will speak to them in Spanish, so it’s awesome,” Rojas said. 

The keynote address came from Eduardo Alba who was born in Mexico as the fourth child of 12. Alba moved to the United States when he was eight and went on to earn a masters degree in education administration. He said kids can follow that same pattern, especially when they have familial support.

“Everything here is geared towards letting parents know what resources are available, and then how they utilize those to the benefit of their kids,” Horsley said. 

Having a night specifically for the Latino community with speakers like them, Rojas said, creates a place of safety and feeling that America is their home. It proves particularly useful for kids. 

Rojas’ parents are from Bogota, Columbia immigrating to New York shortly before she was born. She understands growing up with your feet in two different cultures. 

“It’s hard to marry the two because we feel like we have to keep our culture at home and our U.S-ness out there and you separate the two,” Rojas said.  

LIA aims to bridge the gap by helping students to find confidence in the qualities they have like being bilingual. 

“Maybe one of the biggest challenges is just perceptions that aren’t true, that are deficit based as opposed to the assets that our culture brings,” Rojas said. “[Students] are bilingual, professionals look for bilingual people.”

Lacey Aparicio, an LIA student from Kearns High School, spoke during the program about how LIA helped her find cultural family in LIA coming from a house where her mother is Caucasian and her father is Mexican. She gave her speech half in English and half in Spanish, respectively. Another student spoke about how she was able to overcome her shyness with LIA. 

A sophomore from Cottonwood High School approached Rojas while being interviewed about joining LIA. 

“It gives us the opportunity at LIA to help [students] see that every part of who they are is an asset,” Rojas said.